COD Architecture Students Design, Build and Install Gathering Pavilion

design build

By Angela Mennecke

Twelve College of DuPage Architecture students and three COD Architecture alumni put their skills to the test this summer, designing, building and installing a gathering pavilion for the Community Education Fuel Garden and the Russell R. Kirt Prairie on the Glen Ellyn campus. View photos from installation day.

Mark Pearson, Professor of Architecture at COD, said this year’s eight-week design build class is unique from years past, not only because the pavilion is larger in scope than the previous two, but because students were working for a client—the students and faculty who manage the Community Education Fuel Garden and the Prairie. The Fuel Garden, that sits directly adjacent to the Prairie, supplies fresh produce to the College’s Fuel Pantry, a project of the Office of Student Life, providing nourishment to campus community members in need of food assistance.

“Students had to learn to navigate working with a real architectural client and learn how to cater to their needs,” Pearson said. “Having a client gave students a real sense of purpose.”

During the first four to five weeks of class, students researched similar types of installations. They broke into smaller teams, studied a variety of design approaches and presented ideas to the class, as well as to their client. With input from the client, several ideas were formed into one final design.

“The process of development is one of the things I really like about the design build class,” Pearson said. “The necessity of building the structure forced us to develop the idea. We couldn’t just build an interesting concept. We needed to develop the work and really figure out how we were going to execute this project as a real piece of architecture.”

One of the clients, Outdoor Lab/Prairie Manager Remic Ensweiler, asked the class to consider drawing inspiration from the Prairie when designing the structure.

 “I wanted the pavilion to mimic Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style architecture,” he said. “Now that I see the pavilion completed, it’s the perfect aesthetic and exactly what I was envisioning. It not only looks the part, but it’s practical. I host prairie tours and prairie work days. It’s a place where my workers can get shade, sit down, drink water and put sunscreen or bug spray on. The students took our objective and knocked it out of the park.”

Three COD architecture alumni in their fourth year at prominent universities enrolled in the design build class this summer because the College offers an unmatched opportunity.

Elizabeth Cisneros (Westmont), a fourth-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said she came back to COD because she fell in love with the student environment in the architecture studio.

“Our professors have figured out a way to make this class beyond educational and experiential,” she said. “I wanted to experience it one more time during my summer break. Like everyone else, I aspire to apply my knowledge in the architectural field and make a difference. I want to be my own boss one day and design houses for those in need. This class has really prepared me for the real world”

Cisneros will begin her last year at UWM in the fall proud of her legacy at COD.

“Walking by the pavilion and saying, ‘Oh I built that with my team and my friends,’ is an unparalleled experience,” she said. “This will be with me for a long time.”

David Perrine (Wheaton), a fourth-year student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said the experience is much more meaningful than he expected.

“In architecture school, you constantly hear that when you work with a client, they are going to dictate every last design detail,” he said. “But I’ve found that working with a client, outside of the architecture bubble, is so interesting. As architects, we talk a certain way and think a certain way about projects and we can be very progressive with how we want to approach design, but at the end of the day, we are designing for someone, and it puts us in a frame of mind, less as an architect and more as a public servant. It’s a whole new side of architecture that I’m learning and finding incredibly fulfilling and useful.”

Having alumni in the studio with more expertise is something Pearson saw as an advantage.

“They’ve been through more advanced studios at the university level and were able to contribute that knowledge and that skill to the design class,” he said.

Jacob Bielanski stayed at COD to take extra classes after earning his associates degree. He said he is grateful he decided to stay because this opportunity came up.

“I was actually a part of the class that helped Phi Theta Kappa set up the Fuel Pantry three years ago,” he said. “I was a small part of something back then that has now seeded into this,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible to see my work at COD come full circle.”

Bielanski plans to transfer to Illinois Institute of Technology or UWM so he can continue to work on design builds. He is thankful for the foundation COD has provided him.

“The architecture program at COD is phenomenal,” Bielanski said. “We have students who are going to University of Illinois, IIT, UWM, and they are just loving our students. Coming to COD is a perfect option for anybody. It’s affordable and you are getting an education that’s surpassing even some of the four-year schools. I really believe that.”

Vicky Demakis (Western Springs), who would like to transfer to University of Illinois or IIT, said she enjoyed seeing drawings on paper come to life.

“This class is so different than any I have taken before,” she said. “With designing, you get so accustomed to seeing your models as miniatures, and only designing on the computer or on paper, but to actually see your design being built is totally different. Our instructor, Mark, has been very helpful in guiding us with that transition from designing to building a real-life structure.”

It was the real-world experience that Dan Rodawold (Lisle) enjoyed the most.

“This class is a lot of work, but I love getting this type of hands-on experience,” he said. “Cutting, measuring, hammering. It’s fascinating to see how things come together and connect. COD has an unparalleled architecture program. It’s just like going to a four-year school, but with more hands-on experience.”

For Pearson, teaching this class is incredibly rewarding.

“It’s fun to make things with students and build something real,” he said. “For all of us to see something at the end of the build and see it being used by people on campus that will be enjoyed by the community for a long time to come is very rewarding for me and the students as well.”

The design build project was funded pursuant to a grant from the Illinois Community College Board and funded through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006.

For more information about the Architecture program, visit, email or call (630) 942-2331.